Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Colorado Avalanche - It's All Downhill From Here

Colorado Avalanche Prolegomena - Genealogy of a Loser

In 2001, The Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup. Many people forget that they managed to do so without Peter Forsberg in the Stanley Cup Finals or Conference Finals - Forsberg had ruptured his spleen in an earlier series. The Avalanche were put with the Red Wings and Devils in the pantheon of great teams of the era - rightfully so, as the 2001 team was a terrifying squad. Check out these lines, when healthy:




The depth isn't great, but the top 5 forwards and top 3 defensemen were all arguably All-Star caliber talents, plus the second greatest goalie of all time. The Avalanche continued to contend after this team triumphed - they advanced to the Conference Finals the next season and in all they have 4 finishes in the 2nd round since the Stanley Cup Championship in 2001. However, when a team is winning and trying to win the way the Avs are, they can't afford to trade anyone older and more expensive for someone cheaper and younger - the goal was to amass as much talent as possible every season. Players aged, they had a Cup ring, and they all started to sign too-expensive contracts with other squads. Let's look at what happened to each player on this team. Let's also remember that while this blog is only going to be evaluating trades in terms of what the Avs *now* have, this is, in general, a silly way in general to evaluate trades; if the team got useful players, it's still a good trade.

Forwards of 2000-01 Colorado Avalanche

Alex Tanguay - Traded to Calgary in 2006 for Jordan Leopold and 2 2nd round picks. Jordan Leopold was traded back to Calgary for a 2nd round pick in this year's draft.

Joe Sakic
- Still with team, may retire

Milan Hedjuk
- Still with team

Ville Nieminen
- Traded with Rick Berry for Darius Kasparaitis in 2002 - Kasparaitis would
depart for the Rangers in the off-season of 2002.

Peter Forsberg
- Signed as an unrestricted free agent with Philadelphia in 2005.

Chris Drury
- Drury was traded with Stephane Yelle in the summer of 2002 for Derek Morris, Jeff Shantz, and Dean McAmmond. Derek Morris was traded to Phoenix with Keith Ballard at the 2004 Trade Deadline for Chris Gratton, Ossi Vaananen, and a 2nd round pick (Paul Stastny). Chris Gratton signed as a UFA with Florida in 2005. Ossi Vaananen was signed as an unrestricted free agent by Philadelphia in 2008. Jeff Shantz left the NHL in 2003. Dean McAmmond was traded back to Calgary for a 5th round pick.

Shjon Podein
- Traded to St. Louis in 2002 for Mike Keane. Mike Keane signed as a free agent with Vancouver in 2003.

Stephane Yelle
- Traded with Chris Drury.

Dan Hinote
- Signed as a free agent with St. Louis in 2006.

Eric Messier
- Traded to Florida with Vaclav Nedorost for Peter Worrell and a 2nd round pick in the summer of 2003. Worrell retired in 2004, the 2nd round pick never played in the NHL.

Steven Reinprecht
- Traded for Keith Ballard in 2003.

Dave Reid
- Retired in 2000-01.

From the forwards of that team, all that remains are Sakic (maybe), Hedjuk, and the 2nd round pick that turned into Paul Statsny, as well as the 3 2nd round picks the team acquired in the Tanguay and Leopold deals who have yet to pan out.


Rob Blake - Departed as free agent in 2006

Ray Bourque
- Retired in 2000-01

Adam Foote
- Departed as free agent in 2005

Jon Klemm
- Departed as free agent in 2001

Greg DeVries
- Deparated as free agent in 2003

Martin Skoula
- Traded to Anaheim for Kurt Sauer and 4th round pick at 2004 Trade Deadline. Sauer left as a free agent in 2008.


Patrick Roy - Retired in 2003.

David Aebischer
- Traded for Jose Theodore in 2006. Jose Theodore left as a free agent in 2008.

The Avalanche now have absolutely nothing that remains of the goaltending or defense of the 2001 Stanley Cup Champion team. (They traded a 1st round pick for Adam Foote in 2008.)

Pierre Lacroix was considered one of the most astute general managers in the game in the 1990s and into the 2000s. But in fact, he was given a gigantic windfall - when the club moved to Colorado, it was flush with talent. It had acquired approximately 37 players in return for Eric Lindros in 1992. The Nordiques once owned the rights to Mats Sundin, Joe Sakic, and Peter Forsberg, 3 of the greatest centers of the era. Lacroix had managed to wrestle up 4 1st round draft picks in 1998, two years after winning the Stanley Cup. It was thought the era of good feelings would never end in Colorado, but they most certainly have, and it is difficult to see when this team will contend again. Take heed, Detroit, New Jersey, and other franchises where it seems the good times never end - they most certainly can.

Let's get a look at that cap situation for Colorado:

Not only were the Avalanche terrible last season, finishing with a conference-worst 69 points, but they already owe 47 million dollars for next season's team, and that's without Joe Sakic, who has yet to decide if he is returning for a 21st season with the Colorado/Quebec franchise.

Why Are They So Terrible? The Avs always felt they were one player away from contending - they have a lot of free agent signings post-lockout. Pierre Turgeon. Andrew Brunette. Tyler Arnason. Ryan Smyth. Scott Hannan. Brett Clark. Darcy Tucker. The Colorado braintrust were always looking for that extra guy to put them over the top. They were paying entirely too much for the privilege to do so and last season it all broke down. The Avalanche were also not helped by having terrible goaltending - Andrew Raycroft was a total bust, and Peter Budaj was not much better.

Ryan Smyth Is One of the Worst Signings of the Salary Cap Era: Ryan Smyth is the kind of guy fans love. He is always fighting for pucks in the corners and at the front of the net. Problem is, this sort of player is tremendously overrated, especially when he has the kind of nagging injury troubles Smyth has. He will age faster than his counterparts as a result - many 'power forwards' of this sort have had an ugly second half to their career. Last season he stayed healthy, but only managed 26 goals. Part of this subpar output has to be blamed on the fact that Sakic and Statsny were injured for much of the season - problem is, Smyth turns 33 in February and there is still 3 years left on his deal. There's no guarantee he can even repeat this sort of performance.

2009-10 Projected Lines




Can They Compete For the Playoffs? Stranger things have happened. They own the 3rd overall pick in the draft - perhaps that player comes in and adds something to the team. Maybe they sign a solid goaltender, Sakic returns, and they manage a playoff berth. It's very unlikely - the Avs would have to close their -57 goal differential by a huge margin which is difficult to do in one season, especially with only around 8 to 10 million dollars in cap room. The Flyers managed this feat in 2007-08, but the Flyers were in a far more favorable position - they had lots of money to spend and picked up lots of younger talent at the trading deadline.

Free Agent Discussion


Craig Anderson (2/2.5)

The Avalanche will no doubt be tempted to sign free agent goaltender Martin Biron; rumor is he is seeking a contract in excess of $5 million/season. This would be a colossal mistake - the Avalanche are in a unique position to confirm or disconfirm the suspicion that goaltending should come cheap in the NHL when there are 27 goaltenders who posted a .910 or better save percentage last season. They should stick with Budaj and a player like him - one of these inexpensive goaltenders who can possibly post a .900 to .910 save percentage.

Conclusion: The Colorado Avalanche are a blueprint for what not to do after winning a Championship. By squandering too many of their younger talents for impending free agents, and signing too many free agents themselves, they have managed to stockpile a misfit roster with expensive D men who don't play defense and forwards who can't stay healthy. It will be a long time before people think of the Avalanche as a winning team; they have a mountain to climb before there's excitement in Denver again.

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